Previewing season two of HBO’s Vice to an audience of NYU students last night, Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith admitted there was a time when “we were concerned about rare denim, cocaine and super models — we weren’t the nicest people.” Of course, times have changed. The HBO show was nominated for an Emmy (“a bunch of dirtbags from Brooklyn finally make good,” Smith said last year) and the Williamburg-based media empire launched Vice News this week.
The new season, which premieres March 14, does find Ben Anderson saying “I’ve never seen so much cocaine in my life.” But it’s because the veteran war correspondent is visiting a druglord while reporting a story about police overreach in the “pacification” of the Rio favelas.
Also on deck this season: a visit to a $300 million power plant that Afghanis aren’t even using because it runs on costly diesel fuel, followed by a jaunt to a scrap yard where American materiel is being sold for eventual use by the Taliban; and a sleepover in Greenland, where the melting of ice sheets could eventually put the world’s cities underwater.
Until now, Vice’s HBO show has lacked female correspondents, as editors Jason Mojica and Rocco Castoro admitted to us back in October. But this season marks the debut of Fazeelat Aslam, who accompanies a Pakistani activist as she rescues indentured servants from an oppressive kiln owner.
Speaking to a capacity crowd at NYU’s Cantor Film Center last night, Smith shed some more light on last season’s testosterone-heavy lineup, revealing that Vice “had female hosts last season and we had to pull them out of their shoots because they got too dangerous.” Apparently, a producer is trying to get him to pull a crew out of Iran right now.
Speaking of dangerous territory: Smith revealed the “unwritten rule of the three Ts: Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen” when asked if Vice’s Chinese edition differs from its American one. “If you go after those you’re going after the government because they know that those three Ts are just off-limits,” he said. “We’ve never censored ourselves on any story in China but have we gone after the three Ts? No.”
Which brings us back to cocaine and supermodels. Here’s what Smith told an audience member who asked if he was worried about not being taken seriously by his audience, in light of the brand’s history:
I don’t think our audience sees us as not as serious, I think the New York Times and the Washington Post see us as not as serious. I went to the New York Times and had a discussion there with one of their writers who said, “Look, as long as you’re everyone’s kid brother you’re going to do okay but when you start eating our lunch we’re going to piss in your eyes.” You know, what’s happening now is… I don’t really care where we came from, it’s what we’re doing now. Everyone in the world is now using our footage from Kiev, from the , from Thailand, from Venezuela – because we have more boots on the ground. I don’t really care what the mainstream media says about us, I care about our audience. What our audience has said is, “We want more.”
Okay, but what if Vice gets too old to bill itself as a “youth media brand”? Another audience member asked if Smith was worried about “becoming a dinosaur like Rolling Stone and MTV.”
“In 20 years will we be obsolete and Rolling Stone-esque, sort of looking back and saying [in a grumpy-old-man voice], ‘The only good music is rhythm and blues?’ Probably. And I hope so because 20 years from now it’ll be the hologram revolution and some kid will come up and eat our lunch,” Smith said, though he argued that the brand constantly reinvents itself, trusts its interns, and also: its employees are, on average, 24 or 25. “But will we eventually be old and shitty?” he concluded. “Yes.”
Not that Rolling Stone is that old and shitty. While you await the premiere of Vice’s “Greenland Is Melting,” about ice climatologist Jason Box why not read Rolling Stone’s “Greenland Melting,” about ice climatologist Jason Box. It was published last year.